Plague days diary 4


The quarantine drags on
as the death toll jumps

Wee hours of April 15. Into a girls’ day.

Carlos Slim is taking his gouge, and it will continue at least until Claro offices reopen and I can take a bus from Anton to Coronado. Perhaps I could fix it in Penonome once their offices reopen, but I have had mixed luck with those folks over the years.

Somebody donated a $15 30 days at 2G package. I got like four days worth of service out of it. When light comes and I can see what I am doing, I will add to the chip some Claro cards that someone has bought and sent the numbers to me. By the packages that Claro advertises it ought to be good for a month or so, but really it will be just a couple of days. Should I use part of this small window of time to complain to ACODECO, which is surely slow to nonexistent during the crisis.

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a slight flashback:

Yesterday was a busy day for me, a day of odd little scenes. Or was it that I had to read oddity into things to avoid death of boredom?

First thing yesterday morning Fuulita’s friend stopped over. There wasn’t much to feed her, but she’s a small dog. This dog likes gingerbread. Also michi bread. I shared some of t hose things with her.

The fish man! Just sierra today. The beasts will feast for dinner and there will be fish broth for them the next morning

On the way to wait for the bus, strangely quiet. The cop who’s hardly ever around is of duty, sitting on his front porch and listening to some Christian hip hop, volume not so outrageous. The dog who usually sounds the alarm, barking and running back and forth just inside the fence – despite all the noise wagging his tail – is on this day lying quietly next to the guy whose home she defends in his absence.

As I waited for the bus the mist turned to light rain, and the guy across the street gestured that I should take shelter. Were the sky to really open, I would. Crazy old gringo, he surely thought. “Fuí crecido colonense – soy acostumbrado,” I explained. He may not know that it rains more on the Atlantic Side. Which still doesn’t lessen the conviction that this is a guy too twisted to get out of the rain. And it’s not that the neighbors are wrong about the basic presumption that they are dealing with a crazy old gringo.

The bus came, with surprisingly many women aboard for a boys’ shopping day. But the gender rules don’t apply to essential workers going to and from their jobs. I wonder about the gender breakdown of the cops, grocery store workers, health care personnel and so on who get sick in this crisis. COVID-19 is known to be more deadly for males and a particular scourge for the geritol generation, but I think that the percentage of women working the front lines who get the virus would be newsworthy.

More and more supermarkets are requiring masks to enter. I could have whipped out my bandana and made my western movie bad guy entrance, if the security guard would put up with it. Instead I broke down, went into the pharmacy, and got three three-packs of disposable masks.

WHAT?!?!? No paper coffee filters? Was it panic buying as a possible substitute for toilet paper? Is it a sign of the breakdown of world commerce? Is it a vile Canadian plot, wherein Snidely Whiplash has cornered the supply and he’s squeezing the world’s coffee addicts? I’ll have to check somewhere else on Thursday.

I have this huge chacara – an Ngabe-style woven bag – that when used in the traditional way is carried on the back rather than over the shoulder, with the middle of the strap designed to fit comfortably on the forehead of somebody leaning forward. I just shorten the strap with a knot and carry it over my shoulder. On this day with 20 pounds of rice, 10 pounds of dog food and 7 pounds of cat food, plus cabbage, broccoli, onions and oranges. The other stuff – tea, sugar, ramen noodles, lentils, canned ground sardines, envelopes of chicken with achiote and shrimp flavors and powdered garlic, an aluminum tray in which to roast fish – goes in another bag. So, from the bus stop to home with the chacara on my right shoulder and the bag in my left hand.

Back to work in front of the computer, and all of a sudden the mist turns into a hard rain. It only lasts a few minutes but the potted peppers love it. Soon a procession of bugs will be emerging from the softened soil.

Now comes the bread truck! They are expanding their offerings. Bread and gingerbread, as before. Chicken liver – as in chopped liver sandwiches for dinner. Small bottles of soft drinks. Will this sort of commerce retain its enhanced niche once the crisis is over? A lot of things will not go back to the ways that they were, and this way of shopping is especially convenient for the senior citizens.

Fulita is at the door, early for dinner. She smells the roasting fish. She’s incredibly dirty – and as lovable as ever. She stays for a while, and gets to lick the skillet in which I fried up the chicken livers for my dinner. Not going to stay the night though. Well after dark, she heads back to her other home.

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Monday the 15th, later in the morning…

Back online, who knows for how long.

Overcast, slight breezes shifting around but mostly we are becalmed here in El Bajito. A standard rainy season day, in which the birds’ songs seem to carry farther in the humid air. Let’s see if sometime in the afternoon the sky turns black and we get a downpour.

Very unhealthy for people and the planet, we burn refuse here. Mostly paper and plastic packaging materials. We have no garbage pickup, nor is there recycling, in El Bajito. Except, there is recycling for those things one can reuse. For me, mostly the reusables are plastic bottles and jugs. There are folks who warn about toxic hazards of water stored in plastic, too. Figure that the word would be more emphatically out if that’s true, and that the petrochemical industry would be screaming about how they are being defamed. At the moment I take such tales as something along a continuum from hypotheses to cult lore. Evidence might change my mind. But as to a neighborhood that burns plastic, I take that as a real toxic threat and the lack of proof to be mainly the result of a political decision not to allow funding for the environmental medicine specialists to look into the matter.

Anyway, all the wastebaskets being full, I had to dispose of all that stuff before the rains set in, as I expect they will.

After this health crisis has passed, I suspect that those of us who survive will have a different attitude about many aspects of public health policy.

Perhaps part of it will be the demise, departure or removal of the most toxic of the foreign complainers. There’s actually a guy on one of the English-language Facebook pages out of Coronado running this thing about how the COVID-19 restrictions are the result of this Jewish hoax. If he’s a dual citizen, the authorities might allege that he’s an apologist for crime who encourages resistance to Nito’s decrees. That would probably be a stretch. If he’s not a Panamanian citizen that racist screed is a deportable offense if that seldom-enforced law is invoked.

But what to do about our home-grown jerks?

Demonstrating to the snotty elites that they are not invulnerable probably requires jail time. Fines don’t faze those people and ordinarily that sort of rabiblanco has no shame.

But the poor and outcast, the gangsters and wannabes, the uncounted single mothers, the people who don’t get on any representante’s list of those worthy of receiving a bag of food – the younger of those are the bulk of the offenders. Do we publicize, in gruesome detail, the prison deaths of gang leaders from coronavirus infections? Do we send those grabbed in roundups not onto the streets to pick up trash for a day or two, but out to improvised boondocks camps where they plant trees for at least a couple of weeks while under medical scrutiny, with a clean bill of health a ticket that must be punched to get out? Get into all the tough cop beats up young punk scenarios and we have to ask ourselves if we want a police force that’s encouraged to act that way. In the long term, after this crisis has passed, we have to realize that the widespread disobedience is a function of an alienated underclass, which as a society Panama can only eliminate by giving them something better to do.

~ ~

In all the rage to blame China and “the Chinese” for politically manipulated information about this disease, there is way too much of a racist broad brush. The South China Morning Post, an English-language paper out of Hong Kong, remains one of the world’s great newspapers. Like everyone and everything else in Hong Kong, they have to beware of the Beijing government’s peeves. But they are one of the publications to read if you want to be well informed about the world. For me it’s not an everyday read, but a frequent one. Today the Twitter feed points out a story from three days ago about how researchers in New York think that, like HIV, the COVID-19 virus attacks the immune system by disabling T cells. Fascinating and frightening.

The choice of what to read is something that Americans in particular seem to have lost. You don’t read that enemy propaganda? Well, if that’s what it is, you should still know what the enemy is saying and understand it for what it is.

You want “unbiased news?” Ain’t no such animal. Yeah, yeah – “just the facts.” But which facts are important is a matter of opinion.

You need to understand that every person has a point of view shaped by an environment in which they were raised, the education they received and the lessons of a working life – and also that these individual points of view are constrained by a news organization’s editorial stances and hiring policies.

The nature of the owners and managers means a great deal, as do advertisers’ demands. But if you get purely economic determinist about it you might miss the difference between Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’s The Washington Post and Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s The Intercept.

You need to read a lot of things, preferably in more than one language and certainly from more than one country, always with a skeptical mind, to be well informed.

~ ~

RAIN!! Just before noon. Buckets deployed, and it diminishes to drizzle. But a few minute later it starts coming down hard again. The old rainy season protocols lessen the impact of water failing to come through the aqueduct. Let’s see how much we get.

As it turned out, reasonably plenty. The buckets catching water off of the roof are all full. No need for dirty dishes, or dirty clothing, or irregular bathing or toilet flushes, as I await water to come through the aqueduct. The problem there, however, is that sometimes folks farther up the line divert the water away from us at the end of the line. Pulling that stuff in plague times is especially heinous.

~ ~

No bread truck this afternoon. The powers that be are cracking down on salvoconductos – hope that these guys have not been shut down.

~ ~

Fulita comes to dinner again, in a driving rain. Were the water tanks full, I’d give her a bath – but then she might never forgive me. She ate and she’s sticking around, but I doubt she’ll stay here overnight.

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Huge media shriek, some of it coming from journalists who send their kids to private schools. The public schools were closed when the quarantine began, but private schools had the option of continuing classes online. TODAY, the decree was amended to suspend online classes for most private schools, with the exception of those that are on the US school year schedule. Those latter ones will be allowed to end their school years in late May. But meanwhile private school teachers are out of work and the more upscale Catholic schools are particularly hit.

Some folks who have been solidly supporting Nito’s decrees are suddenly no longer that supportive.

~ ~

3,751 confirmed cases,103 coronavirus deaths. Stay home.


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